BJP BECOMES THE KING SANS THE KINGMAKER IN ASSAM
Riding on a strong anti-incumbency wave against the ruling Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) have swept the assembly polls in Assam securing 86 of the total 126 seats, paving the way for installation of another non-Congress government in the northeastern state after 15 years. Of the five states in which assembly polls were held, the BJP had the highest stakes in Assam and the landslide victory has helped the BJP spread its influence in the strategically located Northeastern part of the country.
The verdict is a clear indication that the BJP has been able to spread its base in the entire state—the Brahmaputra valley, the Barak valley and the two hills of the state- Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao. Of the 60 seats won by the party, 49 came from the Brahmaputra valley, eight from the Barak valley and three from the hills. State BJP president and Union Minister for Sports and Youth Affairs Sarbananda Sonowal, who was projected as the chief ministerial candidate, is now poised to take oath as the new chief minister of the state. However, former Congress minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who played a key role in BJP stiching the pre-poll alliance with the AGP and the BJP and also in electioneering is also expected to play deciding role in ministry formation.
The ruling Congress bite the dust and managed to get only 25 seats and managed to get just 31 per cent votes. In 2014 Lok Sabha polls Congress vote share was 29.90. While Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi retained his seat, 11 of his ministers and several of his former ministers were defeated.
The results shattered the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF)’s chief Badruddin Ajmal’s dream to become a “kingmaker” and his party’s tally was reduced to 13 from 18 won by the party in 2011. Maulana Ajmal who represents Dhubri Lok Sabha constituency himself lost to his nearest Congress rival Wazed Ali Choudhury in Salmara South constituency.
The final party position in the new assembly is: BJP- 60, AGP- 14, BPF- 12, Congress-25, AIUDF- 13 and independent-1. In 2011 the Congress won 78 seats to retain power for the third consecutive term when the BJP managed to win just five seats, AGP-10, BPF-12, AIUDF-18, Trinamool Congress-1 and independents-2. However, the BJP candidates polled the highest votes in 69 assembly segments in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. In this election the BJP-led alliance has secured 41.5 per cent votes ( BJP-29.5, AGP8.1, BPF-3.9). In 2014 Lok Sabha polls BJP secured 36.86 per cent, AGP-3.87 per cent and the BPF secured 2.21 per cent votes.
The verdict shows that the AGP has gained from its pre-poll alliance with the BJP as the regional party, which ruled the state for two terms in the past, won 14 of the 24 seats contested by it. However, the AGP lost the bargaining power as the BJP will not be dependent on it for government formation as the BPF too has won 12 seats.
The BPF, which rules the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), achieved over 90 per cent per cent strike rate and the pre-poll alliance helped the party to 12 of the 13 seats contested by it. However, BPF chief Hagrama Mahliary’s dream to become the kingmaker was shattered and like the AGP the Bodo political party too will not have any bargaining power as the BJP will not be dependent on it for government formation.
Yet, the BJP will always be running the risk of offending the two allies at the same time as the AGP and the BPF together would have a strong bargaining power. This political reality will always keep the BJP in check and prompt it to devise strategy to prevent the two regional parties coming too close.
The BJP stitched a “rainbow” alliance with AGP, BPF, and the political organisations of the Tiwas and the Rabhas and played upon the perceived fear of Muslims of erstwhile East Bengal origin reducing the “indigenous Assamese” people to minority by dubbing the 2016 electoral battle in the state as the “Last battle of Saraighat,” ( A historic battle in which the Ahoms, who ruled Assam for over 600 years, defeated the Moghuls).
The AGP, which champions the cause of “indigenous Assamese” will seek to bring the issues of implementation of the Assam Accord and the various clauses of the accord such as identification and expulsion of “Bangladeshis,” sealing of India-Bangladesh border and most importantly the clause Six of the accord which promises that “constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social and linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.”
For implementation of the clause six of the Assam Accord, the AASU has been demanding 100 per cent reservation in the Assembly, barring the seats reserved for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe candidates, and the right over land for Assamese people. It believes that only such a step can allay the fears of Assamese people losing political power to “infiltrators.”
However, a consensus definition of Assamese people could not be found in the past 30 years since the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985 at the culmination of a vigorous anti-foreigner agitation spearheaded by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and formation of the AGP by the student body. Of these 30 years the Congress was in power for 15 years and the AGP for 14 years while the state was under President’s rule for one year.
The people of Assam punished the AGP by keeping it out of power for all these years for its failure to implement the accord which provided the BJP the much needed political space to strengthen its base in Assam. The AGP cannot afford to evade its role in implementation of the accord this time as it would then allow the BJP to annihilate the regional party completely. As long as alliance with the BJP remains a compulsion and not an option, the AGP will not be able bargain with the BJP for the rights of “indigenous Assamese speaker”. The AGP opposed Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government’s notification to provide shelter to “Hindu Bangladeshis” but diluted its stand when it understood that the BJP and the Sangh Parivar had already influenced majority of the Assamese people including those in its traditional stronghold to make key shift in their perception of “Assamese” of as a nation (jati) of not merely a linguistic and cultural identifies but also religious identity which made the believe that it is only the Muslims of erstwhile East Bengal origin and present Bangladeshi Muslims and not the “Bengali-speaking Hindu Bengladeshis” who pose grave threat to the identity of “Assamese.”
For the BPF, too the key issue to remain the most influential political force in Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD) implementation of the Bodo Accord which led to formation of the BTC- tribal autonomous council under the provisions of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution will remain the key issue. This Bodo Accord was signed on February 20, 2003 after the Bodo groups rejected the first Bodo Accord signed by the All Bodo Students Union and the erstwhile militant outfit Bodo Liberation Tigers present BTC Chief Hagrama Mahilary led an armed campaign to revive the movement for separate state of Bodoland on the ground that accord failed to fulfil the aspirations of the Bodo people. Even though anti-incumbency was high against the BPF for the very reason that it shared power with the Congress from 2006 to 2014, the BPF fueled fresh hopes among the Bodos by showing them the “kingmaker” dream and by severing ties with the Congress well ahead of the assembly polls while its alliance with the BJP and AGP helped to retain the support of non-Bodos as well.
The results have clearly indicated the BJP has caused a permanent dent in the traditional Congress stronghold among the tea-tribes and the saffron party’s inroads in this Congress bastion in 2014 was not a temporary phenomenon attributed to only dissidence against the outgoing Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi by Congress legislators representing the tea tribes. Although Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi could retain his Titabor constituency defeating the BJP’s Lok Sabha MP from Jorhat and veteran tea-tribe leader Kamakhya Prasad Tasa, most of his former cabinet colleagues lost the poll this time.
For the AIUDF, a shift among the Muslim voters of east Bengal origin towards the Congress, reduced its strength in the Brahmaputra valley. Of the total 13 seats won by the party nine came from the Brahmaputra valley and four from Barak valley. In 2011, of the total 18 seats won by the party, 17 came from the Brahmaputra valley and only one from Barak valley. In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, a sharp polarisation of votes on religious lines helped the party poll the highest votes in 25 assembly segments. The BJP and its allies played upon the rise of AIUDF to reinforce the fear “indigenous Assamese losing political power” to a possible AIUDF-Congress combination which it showcased as a “protectors” of “infiltrators ( Bangaldeshi Muslims)”.
Return of the BJP in the Barak valley is likely to mount pressure on the Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre to fulfil its poll promise of granting citizenship to “Hindu Bangladeshis.” In 2011 the BJP failed to win a single seat in the Bengali-dominated Barak valley and in 2014 Lok Sabha polls too, the BJP managed to poll the highest votes in only three of the total 15 assembly segments under the two Lok Sabha seats -Silchar and Karimganj in the valley even when Modi wave swept the Brahmaputra valley. In this election the BJP has won eight seats, the AIUDF won four and the Congress won only three seats.